BRASILIA, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Police on Friday arrested a Brazilian lawyer who authorities say was caught on tape arranging bribes with a ruling party senator to stop his client from turning state’s witness in a massive corruption probe.
The lawyer, Edson Ribeiro, was in the United States when Brazilian police jailed Senator Delcidio do Amaral and the chief executive officer of Brazil’s biggest independent investment bank on suspicion of obstructing the corruption investigation into state-run oil firm Petrobras. Ribeiro was arrested when he arrived in Rio de Janeiro from Miami.
The unprecedented arrests of Amaral, President Dilma Rousseff’s point man in the Senate, and billionaire banker Andre Esteves, CEO of BTG Pactual SA, sent shockwaves through Brazil and paralyzed Congress on Wednesday.
Ribeiro’s name appeared on the Interpol watch list and U.S. authorities located him, but police said he bought his own ticket back to Rio de Janeiro, where he had defended Nestor Cervero, a former Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras) executive.
Ribeiro has told Reuters he opposed plea bargains that have enabled investigators to crack a complex price-fixing and political kickback scheme at the oil company. Cervero eventually hired other lawyers to negotiate a deal.
Prosecutors accuse Esteves of illegally obtaining a copy of the draft deal, expected to implicate him and Amaral in the bribe scheme that has already implicated netted dozens of executives and some 50 lawmakers.
Ribeiro, Amaral and Esteves were ultimately betrayed by Cervero’s son Bernardo. The elder Cervero faces a minimum 12 years in jail.
In a meeting recorded by Bernardo Cervero made public in court documents, Amaral said some Supreme Court justices could be swayed into freeing Nestor Cervero.
Ribeiro said he would look into getting a small plane to get Cervero out of the country, perhaps through Venezuela or Paraguay and eventually to Spain, where he has citizenship, according to an audio transcript.
The transcript in court documents shows Amaral also told Bernardo Cervero that Esteves was willing to pay his family 50,000 reais ($13,500) per month in exchange for a promise of his father’s silence.
BTG Pactual said on Friday that independent board members were reviewing the allegations against Esteves.
Esteves’ lawyer said the banker “certainly” had not acted to obstruct the investigation. Amaral’s lawyer said arresting a senator who had not been formally charged violated Brazil’s constitution. The Senate voted to maintain his arrest.
Ribeiro’s lawyer, Bruno Lemos, could not be reached for comment but told newspaper Folha de S. Paulo on Thursday the accusations were wrong on first review. ($1 = 3.7 reais) (Writing and additional reporting by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)